Review of Dungeon Crawl Classics 7: The Secret of Smuggler's Cove

Review Summary
Capsule Review
Written Review

August 9, 2004

by: Jeremy Reaban

Style: 4 (Classy & Well Done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

A solid retro adventure for D&D 3.5. So retro you can almost hear The Human League on the radio. (That's a good thing, for at least me).

Jeremy Reaban has written 125 reviews, with average style of 3.51 and average substance of 3.94 The reviewer's previous review was of OGL Cybernet.

This review has been read 16487 times.

Product Summary
Name: Dungeon Crawl Classics 7: The Secret of Smuggler's Cove
Publisher: Goodman Games
Line: d20, Dungeon Crawl Classics
Author: Chris Doyle
Category: RPG

Cost: $11.95
Pages: 40
Year: 2004

SKU: GMG5006
ISBN: 0-9746681-5-X

Review of Dungeon Crawl Classics 7: The Secret of Smuggler's Cove

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Dungeon Crawl Classic #7:
The Secret of Smuggler's Cove

Goodman Games is an interesting company. It was one of the earlier d20 companies around, and put out Broncosaurus Rex, a game of Cowboys and Dinosaurs set in the far future (not to be confused with Discosaurus Rex, a game about Lounge Lizards). While being pretty much a completely unique and well done product, I'm not sure how well it sold, so I think they shifted gears into producing other, more generic d20 products. Including a line of old school modules called "Dungeon Crawl Classics". They also are putting out the new/old Blackmoor setting, which I think will debut at Gen-Con). There were many similar startup companies that seemed to exist to put out the game the author wanted to, but I think this is one of the few that made the shift to other products so successfully. Similarly, they are one of the only d20 companies that still seem to make adventures, and seems to actually sell them. Why? Apparently because of the old-school feel they go for.

Necromancer Games has the motto "3rd Edition Rules, 1st Edition Feel", trying to imply their books are like the old classic AD&D ones, but as many have noted, that's not really true. While I have most of their modules, the feel is far more modern, closer to 2nd edition. Their maps also tend to be computer generated, and the art is generally done by Brian LeBlanc. While he is probably my favorite artist d20 around, the early TSR modules tended to have line drawings. His stuff is a bit stylish, but very realistic looking. (Though one thing he generally does, is have the same "party" of characters in each illustration, like they were going through the module themselves. Jim Holloway used to do that in the old TSR modules he illustrated)

A bit closer to the "1st Edition Feel" are the two modules from Ed Cha and Open World Press. These even copy the old style cover, though they are perfect bound. However, while having some of the feel, they are also very modern in outlook, focusing a lot more on role-playing and such. Again, very good, but not quite the classic feel. For example, in Oester, you are given fairly detailed individual backgrounds/past histories and personalities on a band of thugs that ambushes the party.

This line of modules, "Dungeon Crawl Classics", do greatly resemble the old modules of old. At first glance, the cover is almost identical to the design of the old TSR ones. It's not exact, the art is a bit smaller, and there's a Goodman Games logo instead of the TSR one, but it's very very close.

Upon opening the cover, the similarities continue. The old modules would have the maps on the interior of the cover, white on blue. This has the same thing, looking very very similar, except the maps lack a key (which can be a bit confusing). The interior layout and art styles are also very similar.

The only real difference is that the paper in this is much thinner. The old modules used fairly heavy stock. The paper in this is easily seen through. Also, many of the old modules had pre-generated characters. This does not. Not all of the old modules did, but that would have been a fun addition, I think. This does seem to have the somewhat odd names for NPCs that are found in the old TSR modules.

So I'm impressed at how old-school it feels. I can't believe I didn't buy one of these until now. I'm a fairly big adventure/module fan, but I generally prefer ones based around a town. I think this is the first in the series that is, which is actually what led me to buy it. That and as mentioned, they are about the only ones making modules anymore. Even Necromancer Games has largely shifted to huge, expensive, mini-adventure settings like the Lost City of B.A. Barakus, which are unfortunately out of my price range.

Getting on with it...

"The Secret of Smuggler's Cove" is perhaps not the most original module in terms of basic theme, but is fairly original in how it puts those themes together.

Basically, the PCs are hired to investigate a missing lighthouse keeper. The townsfolk are afraid to do it themselves, because they think it's haunted.

The upshot of it is, yes, it is haunted, but that's not the dangerous part. As you might guess from the title, somehow smugglers are involved. (Just what these smugglers smuggle, isn't mentioned. ) Presumably, the PCs will not stop at the lighthouse, and clean out the entire dungeon complex underneath.

While it is a Dungeon Crawl, but it's not one big dungeon (or medium sized), but basically 5 small-ish ones. The lighthouse itself, a deserted manor, the dungeon below said manor, the Smuggler's Caves, and the caves of some fish-people. There's a lot of "rooms" or encounters, almost 60 by my count.

It's all fairly logically done. And while I don't want to spoil it ( a little hint - "The Fog" meets the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh), the plot actually makes sense.

The module is very well written and presented. You get a description of each room (which you could read to players), what's in the room itself, and any relevant information on tactics the monsters would use, or the DCs that the PCs might have to roll against, for traps or spotting things and such.

I also liked how the author gave class levels to many of the monsters/opponents. Beyond the fact that this makes the monsters unpredictable, power wise (since players don't always expect monsters with classes), it makes scaling the adventure easier - you can take away or give levels fairly easily. (This adventure is for 5-7th level characters, but does have tips on how to scale it).

Obviously, as a Dungeon Crawl, it's a bit lacking when it comes to NPCs that aren't meant to be killed (this is actually used as a selling point), but there is a town (Fair Haven) detailed briefly (just a few shops and such) with a few friendly NPCs. And there are a couple prisoners in the dungeons themselves which may or may not be friendly in the long run, much like the old classic modules had NPCs that you weren't completely sure of.

The layout is pretty straight forward. Pretty much consisted entirely of keyed entries for the maps.

The art is all retro in style, and all pretty good. There are 9 pieces of art in 36 pages (3 pages of maps and 1 page for the OGL round out the book), which seems to be about the standard ratio (1:4), but all the pieces except one are fairly small. There is also no coherence between the pictures, since they were done by 3 different artists.

The maps are nice and clean, easy to read. Like I said, they largely emulated the old TSR map style, which is very easy to read. There are some frills to the maps, additional details, some of which aren't obvious what they are, because there is no map key for symbols.

It's really hard to find anything wrong with the module. The only real concern I have have is over one magic item/encounter (and this isn't really a spoiler, because you can see an illustration of it on the product page). Apparently (though this isn't clearly stated, so I'm not sure), one of the items in the dungeon underneath the manor is an "Iron Flask", complete with inhabitant. This is meant to be something of a trap. However, the "Iron Flask" is also one of the most expensive magical items around, weighing in at 170,000 gp. Though actually, I've never understood if the Iron Flask forced the critter back into the bottle at the end of the hour, thus being re-usable (getting an hour of service from the critter each day), or just worked once, then the critter took off. If it's the latter, I don't see why the thing is so desirable. (The original DMG didn't list a price, but pretty much contains the same exact text).

Still, while it's very good, it's not amazing. It's a very journeyman-like effort - the pieces all fit together, it's plausible, it's complete, but it's not especially memorable. Not that this is a bad thing, very few of the old TSR modules were like that, but enough so that I only give it a B+, not an A. (When I get around to running it, and it is an A, I'll write a playtest review and give it one)

As a side note, you could also easily adapt it to a Call of Cthulhu adventure. Just change the fish-people to Deep Ones, and the smugglers to bootleggers.

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